The domestic cat is an extremely popular companion among Americans. Over the years domestic cats have roamed the streets, creating a feral cat population. This has become a problem since high rates of reproduction and lack of owner spay and neuter have allowed the feral cat population to increase dramatically. Studies have shown that this overpopulation directly affects wildlife. This has created conflicts among animal advocates because community cats and endangered bird species are on opposing sides.
For decades now, the feral cats versus the wild birds controversy has existed. Recently, communities have begun to categorize colonies of feral cats as “community cats,” with the focus on management of the existing colonies rather than eradication. This illustrates the battle between the extermination of feral cats and more humane management methods, such as sterilization and vaccination.
One important aspect of the Community Cat Program is Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (“TNVR”), which is labeled by cat advocates as the most humane method of dealing with cat colonies. One of the biggest concerns for the proponents of TNVR and broader Community Cat Programs is individual animal welfare. In addition to individual animal welfare, proponents argue that lethal methods are not the most effective method to reduce cat populations and are more expensive since lethal methods are accomplished at the expense of the government. Opponents of TNVR argue that the presence of TNVR programs that include ongoing caregiving may encourage owners to abandon their cats because they know they will be cared for.
Currently, there is no applicable federal law that controls the feral cat issue and for some time there were no laws at all. Volunteers would do what they could to implement their local TNVR programs. Recently, however, a few states have recognized the need to establish programs to control feral cat populations since their effects on wildlife have now been more widely studied and the efficacy of killing as a method of population management has also been criticized. These laws vary in their approaches.
In addition to local and state laws, there have been federal responses to the feral cat crisis. The Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, two federal laws, have played a role in setting forth policy on feral cats. Moreover, one federal case, American Bird Conservancy v. Harvey, puts the challenge of bird advocates under these federal laws in response to cat programs front and center. The merits of this case have not been decided but have the potential to impact both sides of the issue.